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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Common Law commonplace

USA's Common Law premiered this past Friday night. As with many USA pilots, the first episode is super sized, to give the show time to introduce the characters and the story, as well as complete the expected, procedural case of the week. The "Pilot" of Common Law does both, and manages to live up to its network peers.

That's the problem. Just how many quirky twosomes can exist on the network, doing the same thing week after week, and still hold audience attention? Common Law draws comparisons to Psych, White Collar, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Royal Pains. But USA fans already have Psych, White Collar, and Royal Pains. Do they really need yet another hour of the same thing over and over again? With the huge variety or programming out there, why would anyone want to waste time watching clones of shows they already watch?

Now, fans of Common Law will strike back, complaining there are differences. And of course there are. Common Law embraces the notion of law enforcement partners having a similar relationship as a married couple more so than any other series before it, which is saying something. In fact, the two leads, Travis Marks (Michael Ealy, The Good Wife) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole, The Chicago Code) are in marriage counseling! They love each other, but bicker like a pair who have been together a long time, and enjoy pushing each others' buttons.

The counseling conceit is actually quite charming. Casting the lovely and talented Sonya Walger (Lost, FlashForward) as their therapist is fantastic, with the three providing a terrific dynamic. Any scene where the two cops are in treatment, especially in a group session with several other couples, really soars.

The problem is, like every other USA show, those moments cannot be the focus of the series. Instead, they bookend the episode, while the lead characters spend most of the hour solving yet another crime. One might begin to think that the number of fictional criminals caught on the dozens of similar shows is starting to exceed the number nabbed in reality!

Common Law also is funny. From the dialogue of the partners, to Travis shooting one of those silly air-tube-people, there are things to laugh at. Just like every other USA show. They never quite hit realism because they take the time to be entertaining, which is part of the draw. On every single one of the network's shows.

And there's the rub. We don't need Common Law because we already have too much in the same vein. As much as the three lead actors, as well as Jack McGee (Rescue Me) as the boss, Captain Sutton, get it right, there is just no room on the schedule for another variation on the rote theme. For that reason, and that reason alone, not because of a lack of quality, but because of a lack of originality, I cannot recommend watching Common Law.

However, if you'd like to anyway, Common Law airs on USA Fridays at 10 p.m. ET.

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Article first published as Common Law commonplace on TheTVKing.

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